Weird 2016: The top offbeat stories of the year
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - This year was pretty weird. It was so odd, in fact, that "surreal" was deemed Merriam-Webster's word of the year.
From widespread clown sightings and the invasion of Pokemon, to alleged UFO encounters and car accidents being blamed on spiders, many of us wondered these past 12 bizarre months whether we'd slipped from the grips of reality and entered the Twilight Zone.
As we prepare for 2017's arrival, let's remember some of 2016's wackiest moments and most popular offbeat stories:
Much of the country kicked off 2016 in winter wonderland mode, ushering in snow days to the delight of students (and teachers) all over. School cancellations announced in song have become quite the trend. In January, a West Virginia school district superintendent, who had made headlines in 2015 for his take on "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" from Disney's "Frozen," turned to Adele for inspiration. Nicholas County Schools Superintendent Keith Butcher's version of "Hello," telling students to stay home, was an instant hit.
Later that same week, Butcher modified the Eagles' "Take it Easy" in another viral snow day announcement.
Though the magical "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" wouldn't hit movie theaters for another 10 months, a real-life toothy, deformed mountain lion wowed the nation when it was discovered in Idaho early this year. Puzzling the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, which said the reason for the deformity was unknown, the creature had teeth protruding from its forehead.
The year had one of its most ironic moments early on. In the first week of 2016, a news crew from WJLA was covering an anti-robbery press conference in Washington, D.C. when its car was - you guessed it - broken into. According to a WJLA reporter at the scene, the crime took place roughly 100 feet from where Mayor Muriel Bowser and Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier were discussing a robbery-fighting task force.
And who could forget Sloan, the 14-month-old Utah tot who stole hearts with her snowboarding skills? According to an August video posted to her YouTube channel, the youngster can also water-ski!
If you're unsatisfied with the results of the presidential election, Canada's Cape Breton Island wants to be your refuge. Nine months before Americans cast their ballots, a Canadian radio host created the website "Cape Breton if Donald Trump Wins" for those who planned "to get the hell out" of the U.S. in the event the billionaire secured the presidency. With Trump's inauguration now weeks away, the website has been updated to show that the Nova Scotia island welcomes visitors of all political parties.
A romantic Valentine's Day tradition at the Seattle Aquarium was skipped this year. The public usually gets to watch the sea creatures mate, but there was no octopus lovemaking to be had in 2016. Aquarium officials were afraid the 70-pound male octopus, Kong, would eat the 30- to 40-pound females.
What's winter in Wisconsin without parking on the ice? During Lake Geneva's Winterfest, dozens of folks in the Badger State experienced a sinking feeling when they parked their cars on the Geneva Bay and temperatures rose above freezing.
An Oregon Girl Scout made headlines - and sales - when she sold Girl Scout cookies outside Foster Buds Marijuana Dispensary in Portland. Accompanied by her aunt, the business-savvy Scout advertised, "Satisfy Your Munchies." The child's aunt noted, "The Girl Scouts organization said they don't condone this, but it's not against the rules."
When you gotta go, you gotta go - even if you're in the middle of committing a crime. An Oklahoma family says they caught a man snooping around their property on surveillance video - and pooping in their yard. Neighbors also reported having seen a man in their yards.
A Springville, New York woman tried to get away with a fake, handmade license plate. The 28-year-old was also driving without insurance and with a suspended registration. The Erie County Sheriff's Office reminded the public: "In case you are wondering, homemade cardboard license plates are NOT legal."
Morning rush hour is something we're all used to, but it's not every day a traffic jam is caused by a naked woman dancing atop a big rig. Such was the case in Houston on March 7. The incident shut down Highway 290 West for several hours.
Sometimes when you plan, you don't think things all the way through. Phillip Booker, of Madison, Tennessee, was charged with aggravated burglary after his neighbor reported his PlayStation 4, two TVs and laptop had been stolen. According to the arrest affidavit, the victim suspected Booker was behind the apartment break-in when he failed to disconnect the PS4 from the victim's Wi-Fi network.
Does the hashtag #ManInTree ring any bells? For 25 hours, a man who had scaled an 80-foot tree in downtown Seattle refused to come down. America watched live as police tried to convince him to climb down.
This spring, people just couldn't get enough of Seattle's historic, tiny, pie-shaped "Spite House," which went back on the market. One end of the iconic dwelling is just 55 inches wide, while the opposite end is 15 feet wide. The yellow, 860-square-foot home sold for $500,000.
Remember the zombie apocalypse? Just kidding. But who could forget the Virginia brothers who convinced their little sister that the walking dead had taken over? Considering she was still woozy from just having had her wisdom teeth removed, Millicent wasted no time helping her prankster siblings plan their zombie defense.
The truth is out there. Are UFOs visiting the International Space Station? NASA offers a live feed of the ISS, delighting space fanatics and conspiracy theorists alike. In April, the latter were convinced UFOs had been spotted at the ISS and NASA covered it all up.
"They monitor these feeds and sometimes they're not quick enough, and these UFOs appear. We have certainly documented that on this channel," Tyler Glockner of SecureTeam, which searches for UFOs and aliens, told KOMO NewsRadio.
Things turned crappy on an Everett, Washington off-ramp when a semi truck carrying human waste overturned. The vehicle was coming from a sewage treatment plant.
The next time you go tree shopping, beware of snakes! In May, a Lowe's customer was bitten by a poisonous copperhead snake that had been lurking in a tree in the gardening department.
Speaking of animal bites, a young woman in Boca Raton, Florida was bitten by a nurse shark in mid-May. She was taken to the hospital - with the shark still attached to her arm.
Knock knock. Who's there? Just an alligator at your front door, no biggie. A mischievous gator was spotted lurking around a South Carolina cul-de-sac. He even tried to climb one home's front door.
A trio of 14-year-olds learned a valuable lesson when they were caught burglarizing a Coos Bay, Oregon man's home. The homeowner forced one of the boys to call 911 to report the theft they were attempting to commit.
Whether it's a mouse, a moth or a spider, finding creatures in your home can be unsettling. Imagine being greeted by two snakes! That's what happened to a South Carolina man, who discovered two black snakes mating as they dangled from his attic door. "Please don't go into my bedroom," he urged the serpents in a video posted to Facebook.
No one likes sitting in line at the toll plaza, but two motorists in New Hampshire literally got stuck waiting when they tried to drive through a toll lane at the same time. No injuries were reported.
A Texas mother got quite the "saur-prise" when she thought she found drugs in her teen daughter's nightstand. In an exchange of text messages posted to Twitter, the girl tells her mother to put the colored capsules in water. Mom obliges - and relaxes - when she realizes the "drugs" are really "magic foam" dinosaurs.
In a presidential election year, those who impersonate the candidates often make waves as much as the politicians themselves, and 2016 was no different. Forget Alec Baldwin's Donald Trump and Kate McKinnon's Hillary Clinton on "Saturday Night Live" - check out this Chicago teen's variety of political impressions:
This was the summer of "Pokemon Go," the smartphone game that forces users to get out and trek about the real world, capturing pretend creatures. Also prevalent were a myriad of injuries sustained by players too immersed in the app to pay attention to their surroundings.
A photo from the scene of a fatal traffic accident purporting to show a rising spirit went viral in July. A passerby posted what he claims is an unaltered image from the Kentucky crash site to Facebook.
This summer was such a scorcher that horse manure in upstate New York spontaneously and frequently burst into flames. According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the smell of burning manure prompted multiple complaints.
Sometimes it takes a while for a good story to go viral. A video posted to YouTube in April 2014 showing a girl swimming in a pool with a giant albino Burmese python spread like wildfire in July 2016. The video now has nearly 4.3 million views.
No summary of 2016 would be complete without mentioning Harambe, the Cincinnati Zoo gorilla who was killed in May when a boy fell into his enclosure. In August, a petition urging the Cincinnati Bengals to change their name to the Cincinnati Harambes went viral. It has so far been signed by more than 25,000 supporters.
Parallel parking is difficult for many - especially for a Mercedes driver who managed to park her car atop a $290,000 Ferrari in Virginia. Be warned, car enthusiasts, the video below is painful to watch.
A 36-year-old New Mexico mother of nine raised eyebrows over the summer because of her sexual relationship with the 19-year-old son she gave up for adoption when she was a teenager. Monica Mares and Caleb Peterson, who have been charged with incest, say they are in love and told The Daily Mail they want to bring awareness to Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA), which occurs between close relatives who first meet as adults.
If you've ever read or seen the movie adaptation of Stephen King's "It," you know that this summer's cross-country clown sightings were stranger than fiction. Nationwide, the white-faced jesters attempted to lure children into dark woods, chased adults walking in their neighborhoods, and made bomb threats at schools. Such incidents continued through the fall.
What would you do if you were driving along and a spider dropped down from your rearview mirror? A motorist in the Portland, Oregon area cited an arachnid as the cause of a rollover crash that totaled her car. The vehicle fell into a ditch, but the driver suffered only minor injuries. The spider was nowhere to be found after the accident.
Remember the gasoline shortage in the South? A married Nashville, Tennessee couple made the most of a dry situation by filming themselves freaking out about the lack of gas. Their comedic, relatable video was viewed more than 86,000 times on Facebook.
Imagine the eerie feeling a California woman must have felt when she saw her face plastered on collection jars that claimed to be raising money for a funeral. KBAK/KBFX reports photos of Lupita Gonzalez were used to portray "Enriquetta Nunez." Messages posted on the jars said Nunez's family needed money to bring her remains back to Mexico. "It's a scary feeling," Gonzalez said.
We've all been late to class one time or another, and up until you graduate high school, your parents can provide you with an excuse. This back-to-school season, the tardy note a California mother wrote her teenage daughter went viral. One day Cara went through a rough bout of "teenage-ism." Her mother said the teen "suffered from an inability to remove herself from her bed, and also felt the need to talk back to her birth-giver."
Oh, Ken Bone. The undecided Midwestern voter - best known for his mustache and red sweater - became an overnight sensation when he asked a question at the town hall-style second presidential debate. But the nation's affection for him was short-lived. The self-proclaimed "debate mascot" held an "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit, and his unsavory history on the site disturbed many of his newfound fans.
This fall, Ally Bank's "Lucky Penny" promotion got Americans thinking twice about ignoring pennies on the ground. The Detroit-based bank placed 100 fake pennies - each worth $1,000 - across the U.S.
Impersonating a police officer isn't such an unusual crime, but it's not every day a man pretending to be a cop attempts to pull over an unmarked cruiser driven by an actual police detective. John Vincent Angelini, 51, of Baltimore, was arrested for just that in Montgomery County, Maryland.
If you drive an unremarkable car in a common color, perhaps you've accidentally approached a vehicle that looks like yours, say, in a crowded parking lot. But accidentally stealing a similar car is another story. A Portland, Oregon woman says her stolen Subaru was returned by a stranger named Paige who said, in a note, "I sent my friend with my key to pick up my red subaru at 7802 SE Woodstock and she came back with your car." Paige also left the victim some gas money. According to KATU, police say some older-model Subarus have interchangeable keys.
A woman in Tokyo undergoing a procedure involving the application of a laser to her cervix was seriously burned during surgery - because she farted, according to The Asahi Shimbun. Tokyo Medical University Hospital told the publication the laser is believed to have ignited the passed gas. The incident occurred in April, but went viral in November.
It seems to be happening more and more during the holidays: As online shoppers' delivered packages pile up on their front porches, thieves swoop in and take them. Also becoming prevalent are homeowners baiting robbers with special parcels of their own. Las Vegas resident Eric Snow baited some neighborhood crooks with a package full of excrement from his 95-pound German Shepherd, Heidi. Sure enough, Snow caught them taking the bait on surveillance video.
We all have things that calm us down when we're anxious or upset. For a blind rescue goat named Polly, the cure for severe anxiety is a duck outfit. Polly, who also relaxes in unicorn and pig outfits, became an internet star this fall.
Seen "Snakes on a Plane"? A scene that could have come straight out of the Samuel L. Jackson film uncoiled on an Aeroméxico flight to Mexico City last month, as a snake dangled from a baggage compartment. All aboard!
"Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" has ruled the box office since its Dec. 16 release, but the sci-fi action flick may not have been too entertaining for an Oregon man who fell asleep during the movie. He awoke in the middle of the night - early Christmas Eve morning - to an empty theater. He called 911 and was rescued at an emergency exit. May the Force be with him.
Just about everyone participated in the #MannequinChallenge this year, freezing mid-action while a video camera panned over them. Criminals were no exception. One viral Mannequin Challenge video showed more than 20 men holding guns in a staged stand-off outside an Alabama home. But the fake situation caught the attention of police, who conducted a raid. Two men were arrested, and authorities seized firearms, ammunition and marijuana.
Did you or someone you know welcome a little Sophia or Jackson into the world this year? The monikers topped the lists of most popular girl and boy baby names of 2016. Politics and pop culture played a big role in baby names this year. Hillary went up 64 percent thanks to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, while the Netflix hit "Stranger Things" led to an increase in names like Joyce, Lucas and Nancy.
Losing weight and getting fit is no easy task, and it can be discouraging to be bombarded with images of "perfect" fitness models on social media whose physiques appear too good to be true. That's why an Oregon-based virtual fitness coach decided to post a pair of photos to her Facebook page that her clients could relate to. In one angle, she looks fit, while another angle shows some flab. The images went viral. Trainers - they're just like us!